Croft Street Wesleyans and Parker Street United Methodists

Churches and Chapels by Atticus (Contents)

In 1827, a little school was opened in a building at the corner of Gildow-street, abutting upon Marsh-lane, in this town. It was established in the Wesleyan Methodist interest, and one of its chief supporters was Mr. T. C. Hincksman, a gentleman still living, who has for a long period been a warm friend of the general cause of Methodism. Although begun tentatively, the school soon progressed; in time there was a good attendance at it; ultimately it was considered too small; and the result was a removal to more convenient premises – to a room connected with the mill of the late Mr. John Furness, in Markland-street: But the little old building did not change so much in its character after being deserted by the Wesleyan scholars; it was still retained for juvenile purposes – still kept open for the edification, if not improvement, of youngsters. Old-fashioned sweets were sold in it, and the place was long known as “Granny Bird’s toffy shop.” At the mill in Markland-street, which used to be called “Noggy Tow,” the school was very prosperous; but the accommodation here at length became defective, and in 1832 the scholars retraced their steps to Gildow-street, – not to the small toffy establishment, where sucklings, if not babes, were cared for, but to a building at the opposite end of the thoroughfare erected specially for them. In 1840 they withdrew from this edifice and went to a new school made in Croft-street, the foundation stone of which was laid by the Rev. John Bedford, a well-known Wesleyan minister, who at that time was stationed in Preston. In 1858 two wings for class and other purposes, principally promoted by the late Mr. T. Meek, costing £700, and opened clear of debt, were attached to the school, and twelve months ago – scholastic business still proceeding – the central portion of it was set apart for regular religious services on the Sabbath.

The building is large, good-looking, and well-proportioned. There is nothing of an ecclesiastical complexion about either its external or internal architecture. Substantially it is a school, utilised twice every Sunday for devotional purposes. The floor of it is well cared for, and ought to enjoy much fresh air, for there are 18 ventilators, grate shaped, in front of it. When that which formed the nucleus of the school was started, the neighbourhood was open; there was a suburban look about the locality; but entire rows of new dwellings now surround the school; the part in which it stands is densely populated; all grades of men, women, and children inhabit it; “civilisation” – rags, impudence, dirt, and sharpness, for they mean civilisation – has long prevailed in the immediate neighbourhood; a fine new brewery almost shakes hands with the building on one side; the “Sailor’s Home” beershop stands sentry two doors off on the other. What more could you desire? A large industrious population, lots of crying, stone-throwing children, a good-looking brewery, a busy beershop, a school, and a chapel, all closely mixed up, are surely sufficient for the most ardent lover of variety and “progress.”

The room wherein the Wesleyans associated with Croft-street school meet for religious duties is square, heavy-looking, dull, and hazy in its atmosphere. It is ventilated by curious pieces of iron which work curvilinearly up huge apertures covered with glass; its walls are ornamented with maps, painted texts, natural history pictures, &c.; and at the eastern side there is a small orthodox article for pulpit purposes. There are several ways into the room – by the back way if you climb walls, by the direct front if you ascend steps, by the sides of the front if you move through rooms, pass round doorways, and glide past glass screens. We took the last route, and sat down near a young gentleman with a strong bass voice. In a corner near there was a roseate-featured, elderly man, who enjoyed the service at intervals and slept out what he could not fathom. Close to him was a youth who did the very same thing; and in front there were three females who followed the like example.

The service was plain, simple, sincere, and quite Methodistical; it was earnestly participated in by a numerous congregation; the responses were quiet and somewhat internal; an easy respectable seriousness prevailed; nothing approaching either cant or wild-fire was manifested. Working-class people preponderated in the place, as they always do; the singing was clear, and plain, odd lines coming in for a share of melodious quavering; and the sermon was well got-up and eloquent. The Rev. C. F. Hame, who has recently come to Preston in the place of the Rev. W. H. Tindall (Lune-street Circuit), was the preacher on this occasion. He is a little gentleman, with considerable penetration and power; has a good theological faculty; is cool, genial, and lucid in language; and, although he can shout a little when very warm, he never loses either the thread of his argument or his personal equilibrium.

There are 120 members at this place of worship; the average attendance at the different services is 250; and the number is gradually increasing. Regular ministers and local preachers fill the pulpit in turns; there being, as a rule, one of the former at either the morning or evening service every Sunday. Sometimes both kinds may be present and ready for action at the same moment; but they never quarrel as to which shall preach – never get “up a tree,” figuratively speaking, and everything is arranged quietly. The school, wherein the services we have referred to are held, has been one of the most useful in Preston; more scholars have probably passed through it than through any other similar place in the town; old scholars – men and women now – who received their religious education here, are in all parts, and there is not a quarter of the globe where some may not be found who have a pleasant recollection of the school. Its average day attendance is 240; its average Sunday morning attendance 275; whilst on a Sunday afternoon the regular number is 425. The school, which is conveniently arranged and well fit up with every sort of ordinary educational contrivance, is in a satisfactory state, and, in conjunction with the “chapel,” which it makes provision for, is doing an excellent work in the district, which is open to all comers, and will stand much drilling and spiritual flogging ere it reaches perfection.

“Over the hills and far away” – up the brow of Maudlands, down new streets on the other side, under the canal, up another brow, through narrow, angular roads, flanked with factories, by the edge of a wild piece of land supplying accommodation for ancient horses, brick-makers, pitch and toss youths, and pigeon flyers, and then turning suddenly at a mysterious corner in the direction of mill gates you reach Parker-street United Methodist Free Church. Externally this church is a very simple, prosaic building. Viewed from the front it looks like the second storey bedroom of a cottage; eyed from the side it seems like a long office, four yards from the ground, with a pair of round-headed folding doors below, and at the extreme end a narrow aperture, which apparently leads round the corner. It was built 12 or 13 years ago, for a school, by Messrs. J. and J. Haslam, near whose mill it is situated, and it is still used for educational purposes.

During the latter end of 1858 and the beginning of 1859 there was a dispute amongst the United Free Church brethren assembling in Orchard Chapel. Both men and women entered into the disturbance freely; but they did not follow the plan lately adopted by some United Methodist Christians, living at Batley, who, having a grievance at their chapel, “fought it out” in the back yard; what they did, after many a lively church meeting, was to appeal to the authorities of the denomination, state their case quietly, and abide the decision of their superiors. That decision sanctioned a separation and the establishment in Preston of a second United Methodist circuit, totally independent of the Orchard-street people, but responsible to the general executive for its actions. Those forming the new circuit in Preston – about twenty “members” – had not, however, a chapel, so Messrs. Haslam, who sympathised with the movement, permitted them to meet in the school they had built in Parker-street. The course pursued by the secessionists was approved of by some United Methodists at Cuerden Green, where the Orchard brethren had a small chapel, and they left the parent body when the separation already mentioned took place. There was a fair amount of goodly squabbling about the Cuerden Green Chapel. Each side wanted it. For a time the secessionists held it; then the owner of the building died; and, after various movements, the Orchard brethren “went in and won,” and they have retained possession of the premises ever since. The second circuit includes no country place except Brindle, where the denomination has a good chapel. The “full members” of the circuit number about 90, and 75 of them are in Preston. There are 25 “on trial” at the present moment, but as we cannot tell how they will pass through the alembic, it would be out of place to make any absolute statement as to their fate. The circuit is increasing in strength; its finances, notwithstanding bad times, are in a very fair state; a good feeling exists between the members of both circuits; they have become peaceable and pachydermatous, thin-skinnedness being considered an evil; and altogether affairs are satisfactory. The system under which ministers are appointed to Parker-street chapel is the same as that prevailing amongst the general body, and as we described at in a previous article no allusion need now be made to it.

The first parson at the chapel in Parker-street was the Rev. Robert Eltringham; since then the following have been at it – the Revs. J. Nettleton, J. Shaw, J. Mara (who is now a missionary in China for the United Methodist body), W. Lucas, C. Evans, J. W. Chisholm, and the Rev. T. Lee. The names show that there has been a new parson at the chapel almost every year. The present pastor (Rev. T. Lee) only came in August last; his predecessor (Mr. Chisholm), who is a sharp, shrewd, liberal-minded gentleman, having been removed to Manchester. Not long ago, after struggling through many far-away streets, we found ourselves at the corner of a little opening at the top of Parker-street. “This is the place,” said a friend who was with us. We knew it was, for several yards before reaching the building, the torrents of a strong voice came impetuously through an open window, and the burthen of its strains had reference to a revival of “our connexion.” Such a noise as this we thought ought to have aroused the whole neighbourhood; but we could see nobody about except a woman right opposite, who was engaged in the serious business of front step washing, and who seemed to take no notice whatever of the strong utterances coming through the window. She washed on, and the good man above prayed on. It was rather difficult to find the way to the chapel. It could not, we fancied, be by the front door of a shop which we saw beneath; it could not, we were certain, be through a window above, for whilst there was a pulley roller in front of it there was neither rope nor block visible for regular lifting purposes; neither, we thought, could it be through a large double-door at the side, for that was bolted, and seemed to have been made for something taller and broader than the human form. After sauntering about, the grand rush of words through the window still continuing, in the interests of “our connexion,” we moved towards a corner at the far end of the side opening, passed up twelve narrow steps, rushed past a charity box, seventeen hats and caps, and a small umbrella stand, and then sat down. We were surprised at the cleanness and neatness of the building, and at the large number of people within it.

Rumour had conveyed to us a notion that about three persons visited this chapel; but we found between 100 and 200 – all well-dressed, orderly, and pleasant – in attendance. We also noticed a policeman amongst the company. He was present, not to keep the peace, but to get some good, for Heaven knows that policemen need much of the article, and that they have very little Sunday time to find it in. The policeman behaved himself very well during the whole service. The building will accommodate about 200 persons, and the average attendance at the Sunday services is 120. Three or four middle-class persons, several good-looking young women, a number of men, including the policeman; a wedding party, and a numerous gathering of children, made up the congregation we saw.

The service was simple and heartily joined in; the singing, supported by a small harmonium, went off well; and the minister preached a fair sermon. But he is far too excitable to last out long. The speed he goes at would kill a man directly if he were made of cast-iron. Mr. Lee, the preacher, is a ten times breezier man than his vivacious namesake at the Parish Church; he is small like him, dark-complexioned like him, wears spectacles like him; but he travels at the rate of 1000 miles an hour, and his namesake has never yet got beyond 500. The gentleman under review is a pre-eminently earnest man. We never saw any minister throw himself, head, arms, shoes, and shirt, so intensely into the business of praying and preaching as he. Nothing seems to impede his progress. He rushes into space with terrible vehemence; prays until the veins on his forehead swell and throb as if they would burst; and when he sits down he pants as if he had been running himself to death in a dream, whilst sweat pours off him as if he had been trying to burn up the sun at the equator. In his preaching he is equally intense and earnest. He puts on the steam at once, drives forward at limited mail speed; stops instantly; then rushes onto the next station – steam up instantly; stops again in a moment without whistling; is at full speed forthwith, everybody holding on to their seats whilst the regulator is open; and in this way he continues, getting safely to the end at last, but driving at such a frightfully rapid speed that travellers wonder how it is everything has not been smashed to atoms in readiness for coroners, and juries, and newspaper reporters. As to his sincerity there cannot be a question. He is not profound, but is very honest; he has nothing strongly ratiocinative in him, but he has for ever of earnestness in his composition – indeed he burns himself up in a great blaze of zeal and blows himself to pieces in a self-generated whirlwind. If he were quieter he would be more persuasive; and if he expended less of his vital energy in trying to brew forty storms in one tea pot he would live longer. “Easy does it” is a phrase plucked from the plebeian lexicon of life, which we recommend for his consideration. If he doesn’t attend to it we shall have a case of spontaneous combustion to record; and we want to avoid that if possible. There is not a more sincere man, not a man more anxious to do good in Preston than Mr. Lee, only he piles Ossa upon Olympus too stiffly, and that was a job which the gods couldn’t manage properly.

The building where the Parker-street brethren meet is used for school purposes regularly – barring the periods when worship is being conducted in it. On week days about 100 scholars attend it; and on Sundays about 150. The school and the chapel have done much good in the locality, and we wish both prosperity. Whatever maybe the character of the building, and however difficult it may be for strangers to get to it, those living in the neighbourhood know its whereabouts, many having derived improvement from it, and if more went to it, pigeon-flying, gambling, Sunday rat hunting, tossing, drinking, and paganism generally – things which have long flourished in its locality – would be nearer a finish.